Hotel CEOs expressed measured optimism during a virtual panel hosted by New York University on Tuesday, with occupancy in the U.S. and China continuing to inch upward.

“We are double the occupancy we were at the bottom,” said Hilton president and CEO Christopher Nassetta. “We bottomed out at around 13% and we’re running 25% to 35% at this point. We ended last year at 75%, so obviously [we have] a long, long way to go, but trends have to start somewhere.”

Marriott International is reporting similar green shoots, and CEO Arne Sorenson told panelists he’s confident that “the American consumer is ready to bust out” of lockdown mode and begin traveling. 

At a travel conference sponsored by Goldman Sachs earlier in the week, Sorenson said that Marriott’s U.S. occupancy level recently surpassed 20%, calling the development a “meaningful improvement,” reported Business Travel News. In China, where all 350 of the company’s hotels have reopened, occupancy has hit 40%, up from just 7% or 8% at its lowest point.

Meanwhile, David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western parent company BWH Hotel Group, pointed to a particularly promising performance in the U.S. over Memorial Day weekend.

“There’s tremendous pent-up demand for the leisure segment,” said Kong. “I was just talking to one of our board directors who owns a hotel at Seaside, Oregon, and he just [reopened]. The first week, he ran 100% occupancy -- a rate higher than the previous year.”

Kong added that he expects near-term leisure demand to be driven primarily by road trips, with people preferring cars to air travel, and that beaches and national parks “will get the lion’s share” of business. 

According to Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian, U.S. road trippers are showing a willingness to drive “pretty far distances.” 

“The [drive-to] circle that our hotels draw from has grown a lot,” said Hoplamazian. “The number one source market for some of our resorts in Arizona this past weekend and over Memorial Day was Texas. So we have people driving some pretty far distances -- [including from] California and Colorado -- to get there.” 

In China, Hoplamazian said Hyatt is seeing occupancy in the mid-40% range, which he called a “significant progression.” 

“[The U.S. and China] are the two markets that are most dependent on domestic travel and they will come back first,” said Sorenson. He estimated that roughly 95% of the travel market in both countries is domestic. 

“Europe is inherently more complicated,” Sorenson added. “If you look at the market as a whole, it’s made up of all these individual countries. They have their own borders, their own policies. Even beyond that, much of the business is dependent on folks coming in from Europe or Asia or someplace else.”

Accor CEO Sebastien Bazin, however, was relatively bullish on Europe’s outlook. 

“We’re not at 95% in Europe in terms of domestic dependency, but we are at 80%, provided you open the borders between different nations, which is likely to be the case [soon],” said Bazin. “The other element is that it’s not only a drive-to destination, it’s a train-to [destination]. The train transportation in Europe is extremely convenient, and people can take a train as easily as taking a car.”

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